Flooded by Love
By David Feddes
Daniel Steele was a philosophy professor. He had the sort of temperament you might expect from a philosophy professor: level-headed, logical, unemotional. He wasn’t the type to get excited or let feelings run away with him. But guess what? This cool, calculating professor found himself flooded with love, drenched and overwhelmed by the love of God. Listen to what he wrote:
Almost every week, and sometimes every day, a pressure of his great love comes down upon my heart in such measure as to make my brain throb, and my whole being, soul and body, groans beneath the strain of the almost insupportable plethora of joy. And yet amid this fullness there is a hunger for more, and amid the consuming flame of love, the paradoxical cry is ever on my lips, “Burn, burn, O Love, within my heart, burn fiercely night and day, till all the dross of earthly loves is burned and burned away.”
Not exactly the sort of words you’d expect from a rational, unemotional professor. And there’s more. Professor Steele said,
He has unlocked every apartment of my being and filled and flooded them all with the light of His radiant presence; …a spot untouched has been reached, and all its flintiness has been melted in the presence of that universal solvent, “Love divine, all loves excelling.” I now wish that I had a thousand-heart-power to love and a thousand-tongue-capacity to proclaim Jesus, the One altogether Lovely, the complete Savior.
What happened to this man? What moved Daniel Steele to write of love that made his brain throb and to praise “the consuming flame of love” and to cry out, “Burn, burn, O Love, within my heart” and to speak of Jesus as “the One altogether Lovely”?
Well, Professor Steele had been a Christian for 28 years before he had these overwhelming experiences of love. Throughout those years, he had a genuine but mostly intellectual faith. As a clear thinker, he saw no evidence to disprove Christianity and plenty to support it. He believed the Bible’s message, and he also believed that Jesus had died for him personally. But then the Lord he had believed in for so long flooded his heart with love, and he knew firsthand the reality the Bible describes in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has flooded our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us” (NEB).
This sense of being flooded by God’s love isn’t just for people who are high on emotions and low on brain power. It’s happened to some of the most brilliant people who ever lived.
Thomas Aquinas was the greatest thinker of the Middle Ages, one the most rational persons who ever lived. Indeed, he was too rationalistic. He tried to fit Christianity into the philosophical system of Aristotle. Aquinas argued that people usually know God only indirectly, through applying reason and logic to the facts around them. But after spending much of his life saying that people have no direct contact with immaterial reality, Aquinas had such an overwhelming, direct experience of God that he stopped writing. When a friend urged him to complete his great work, the Summa Theologica, Aquinas answered, “I can do no more; such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as straw.”
The Holy Spirit’s love fills as full as a flood, and this divine love blazes as hot as fire. All our thoughts and efforts go up in smoke in the holy fire of God’s love. Anything unworthy is consumed by the holy fire, and the good things we do and the best thoughts we think are set aflame not to be destroyed but to become sacred burnt offerings, holy sacrifices to the infinite God of love.
Blaise Pascal was a mathematical and scientific genius. He developed stunning theories and designed amazing inventions, including the first computing machine. When Pascal died, a piece of paper was found sewn into his coat pocket. He had worn it close to his heart for years. On the paper Pascal had written:
The year of grace 1654; Monday, November 23. From about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight.
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars.
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
Forgetfulness of the world and of all but God.
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”
Pascal the genius had felt the fire of God’s love, and the experience gave him joy and strength as long as he lived.
It’s clear, then, that a sense of being flooded with love isn’t just the giddiness of unstable, unthinking, overly emotional types. The Holy Spirit can pour out God’s love in the hearts of solid, sensible, smart people. Of course, once he does so, they don’t always feel so solid and sensible and smart. They become like children in their Father’s embrace, overwhelmed by his greatness, thrilled by his love, at a loss for words to describe exactly what the Holy Spirit has done in them.
It’s obviously wrong to think that all testimonies of God’s love are just the flighty feelings of people who are too sappy and mushy to know better. The great thinkers I’ve mentioned—and others as well—are proof to the contrary. Once we realize this, however, we might be tempted to go to the opposite extreme and figure that such experiences are only for the elite, only for super saints and mystics and religious geniuses and not for ordinary folks. But many ordinary Christians have experienced a flood of God’s love. In fact, the Bible indicates that this ought to be the expectation and experience of every normal Christian.
In Scripture the apostle Paul says, “God’s love has flooded our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us.” And in another place Paul prays that the Spirit will grant his readers “power together with all the saints”—all Christians—”to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19) Oh, to be flooded with such love and to know this love which surpasses knowledge and be filled with God’s fullness!
Listen to an excerpt from the life of Jonathan Edwards, a man used by God to help lead the Great Awakening of spiritual life in America in the mid-1700’s. Edwards was in the habit of riding his horse out into the woods to a quiet place. He would then get off the horse and walk among the trees, praying and meditating. On one such occasion, he says,
I had a view that was for me extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as Mediator between God and man, and His wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The Person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thoughts and conceptions, which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour; such as to keep me a greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust and be full of Christ alone; to love Him with a holy and pure love; to trust in Him; to live upon Him; to serve Him and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure, with a divine and heavenly purity.
Beware of Dangers
Now, when we speak of such overwhelming experiences, we need to beware of some dangers. It’s possible to be more interested in “having an experience” than in knowing Jesus. It’s possible to become so eager for spiritual thrills that you ignore God’s Word in the Bible and chase after every oddball phenomenon.
Some folks like a preacher to work them into a frenzy. They let go of their mind and will, and they hand themselves over to the preacher’s power of suggestion. They fall backward when the preacher extends his hand toward their face. Some even fall into fits of giggling and animal noises and other bizarre behaviors. Because their behavior is completely unnatural, they think it’s supernatural, produced by the Holy Spirit of God.
But is it truly supernatural? Not likely. It has too little focus on Jesus, too little grounding in the Bible, too much in common with things that have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. Some religious meetings have more in common with the mass hysteria of a rock concert or the mind manipulation of a hypnotist than with the divine flood and fire of the Holy Spirit. Going out of your mind with a mob of other frenzied people does not mean you have the mind of Christ. Falling under the spell of another human does not mean you are being filled with the Holy Spirit and flooded by God’s love.
Have you ever watched a hypnotist in action? It can be quite a show. He can use hypnosis to make people stop thinking for themselves. Once you surrender your mind and will to a hypnotist, he can use his power of suggestion to get you to do almost anything, no matter how strange or stupid. If he tells you to stand on your head, you try to stand on your head. If he tells you to dump a plate of spaghetti into the lap of the person next to you, you do it. Does that mean the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart? No, it means the hypnotist has taken you out of your right mind.
What if something similar to hypnosis is at work in some religious meetings? It’s dangerous and wrong to be so eager for unusual experiences that you hand control of your mind over to another person, whether that person is a hypnotist putting on a show or an evangelist who can make you fall backward or lie on the floor giggling uncontrollably. Some of what is advertised as the work of the Holy Spirit may well be a kind of hypnosis, performed by preachers on willing participants who seek the thrill of losing control of themselves to a man who acts more like a hypnotist or magician than an ambassador of Jesus Christ.
So we must beware of dangers. Even though such things happen, however, it would be tragic if we dismissed the true work of the Holy Spirit and the possibility of being flooded with God’s love. Yes, let’s avoid weird excesses and phonies, but let’s not try to convince ourselves that so long as we believe correctly, behave properly, and attend church regularly, we’ve got everything God is willing to give us on this side of heaven.
The Holy Spirit can give us so much more! The Holy Spirit can put us in touch with the living Christ and flood us with his life and his love. One author puts it well when he says: “Christ is our God. Experience is not our God. Yet we need to experience Christ, meet Christ, touch Christ, not just believe correct theology about Christ. What we need is not experience without Christ, nor Christ without experience, but the experience of Christ. We do not all need, or get, the same experience of Christ. But we all need, and get, the same Christ.” The Holy Spirit is the one who gives genuine, living experience of Christ and his love.
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Blessing
On Pentecost almost 2,000 years ago, God the Father honored the completed work of his Son Jesus by pouring the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ followers in a flood of love and power. What a great and glorious event that was! The memory of Pentecost ought to be a cause for joy and celebration, but God doesn’t want us to rest content with retelling stories about a long-ago event. The Lord wants each of his people right here, right now, to be able to say with Scripture, “God’s love has flooded our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us.”
The apostle Paul, who wrote those words, knew this flood of love in his own life, and he longed for others to be flooded by love as well. Paul prayed that the Holy Spirit would help Christians to know Jesus better and enlighten the eyes of their heart (Ephesians 1:17-18). How does this happen? Not by whipping a crowd into a frenzy, not by one human taking over the mind of another, not by bizarre behaviors totally unconnected with the Bible or the person of Jesus. It happens when the Holy Spirit makes God’s loving promises in Scripture very real and personal to us, when the Spirit makes the presence of Jesus vivid to us and floods the heart to overflowing with a sense of the warmth and vastness of God’s love in Christ. Paul says,
I pray that out of his glorious riches [God] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).
Now remember, Paul isn’t praying that God will do this only for a select, elite handful of spiritual giants. He’s praying for ordinary Christians. Just think of it! Ordinary, imperfect people being given the strength to have the living Christ at home in them, the love of Christ engulfing them, the fullness of God flooding their entire being. This is for ordinary Christians, not just for spiritual giants—but once it happens to an ordinary person, he or she may well become a spiritual giant!
It’s great to read a love story or to hear what other people say about love. But it’s even better actually to love and be loved: to see it in each other’s eyes, to tell each other, “I love you,” to hold each other in a tender embrace, to enjoy giving each other gifts and doing things to make each other happy—the experience of love registers in your mind, of course, but it also grips your heart and floods your entire being.
Likewise, it’s great to read about God’s love in the Bible and to know in your mind, on the basis of what Jesus has said and done, that he loves you enormously. Your relationship to him would never reach even that point unless the Holy Spirit were already at work inside you, giving you faith and a measure of new life. But don’t stop there. Seek to know Jesus more intimately, to sense his presence more powerfully, to embrace a love that surpasses knowledge, and to be filled with God’s fullness.
Strengthened With Power
Now, if you are to be a home for the Lord Jesus Christ, a place where he dwells in majesty and power, you will need constant reinforcement and remodeling. Just as a house needs floors that are strong enough to bear the weight of people and beds and furniture, so your heart needs the strength to bear the infinite weight of Christ living in you. Only the Holy Spirit of Christ can give you that capacity and strength. That’s why Paul prays that God “will strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Our minds and souls and bodies are too weak to bear the full weight of Christ and his love. The American evangelist Dwight L. Moody testified to this. He said, “God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.” It was so overwhelming that Moody felt he would be crushed. The presence of Christ, the weight of a love so wide and long and high and deep, was almost too much to bear. We can only handle as much of Christ and his love as the Holy Spirit enables and strengthens our hearts to bear.
But whether it’s on the streets of New York (as with Moody), or riding in the woods (as with Edwards) or in a room at night (as with Pascal), or in some other place or circumstance—the details aren’t the important thing—being indwelt by Christ, swallowed up in his love, and filled with his fullness, is what every Christian should desire and delight in.
This is the source of greatest joy in being a Christian, and it’s also the source of power and effectiveness in making a difference for Christ in this world. Moody was a shoe salesman and a good, solid Christian worker before being flooded by God’s love. But afterward he lived and spoke with a passion that God used to transform thousands.
Some of us think the key to more effective churches is more activity or better planning. Such things are okay, but they don’t accomplish much if the church is not enthralled with Christ and flooded by God’s love. That’s true of congregations, and it’s also true at the individual level. I may think that as a follower of Jesus, I need to get busier and work harder in order to achieve great things. Well, hard work certainly has its place, but my greatest need is simply to be flooded with love and filled with God’s fullness so that it overflows to others.
Have you ever watched a little child playing with a stick horse? She bounces around the house, pretending to ride the horse, but actually that stick horse isn’t carrying her at all. She is carrying it. That’s what it’s like when I try to do God’s work in my own power: I busily race here and there with a stick horse of religious duties and tasks to carry around. What I really need is the living Holy Spirit, like a splendid horse, to carry me forward in the Lord’s great cause.
Don’t settle for stick-horse religion. That kind of religion doesn’t carry you; you carry it. It may be a fun game for a while, but it’s not the reality of the living God. Seek not the stick horse but living reality. Seek to be carried along by the mighty charger of God’s love in Christ. British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well: “The man who knows the love of Christ in his heart can do more in an hour than the busy type of man can do in a century.”
To summarize: in order to most fully delight in God and honor him, and to most effectively do his work, you and I need God’s love to flood our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us. We need less and less of ourselves, and more and more of God’s fullness in Christ. May God give each of us the grace to join in the prayer of the pastor and poet who wrote:
O the bitter shame and sorrow,
That a time could ever be,
When I let the Savior’s pity
Plead in vain, and proudly answered:
“All of self, and none of Thee!”
Yet He found me: I beheld Him
Bleeding on the accursed tree,
Heard Him pray: “Forgive them, Father!”
And my wistful heart said faintly:
“Some of self, and some of Thee!”
Day by day, His tender mercy,
Healing, helping, full and free,
Sweet and strong, and ah! so patient,
Brought me lower, while I whispered:
“Less of self, and more of Thee!”
Higher than the highest heaven,
Deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, thy love at last hath conquered;
Grant me now my supplication:
“None of self, and all of Thee!”
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.